Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Autism Advocacy - It Takes A Village

I am excited to comment on a phenomenon that I have seen increase over the past year. It has long been recognized that "autism moms" are fierce advocates. Over the past year I have seen something that builds so much hope I can't contain it. I have seen a village of advocates emerge. Fathers, siblings, grandparents, neighbors, friends and even perfect strangers to the effects of autism. I invite you to read the stories of some of our advocates and join this village. If you have discovered the joy of autism advocacy, I encourage you to invite others.

During the past year I have seen fathers of children with autism step up to the advocacy challenge in droves to meet with their legislators and even run as delegates. One example is James Vaughan, a father who started his own support group called Families of Autism and Asperger's Standing Together (F.A.A.S.T - Website and FB Page). Check out his work - it is incredible. Even more so, he is a joyful person to meet and I bet (if he would even admit to that accusation) that he would say part of his joyful attitude and countenance has to do with his advocacy and awareness efforts he and his wife so tirelessly devote themselves to doing.

Adding to the effort are siblings of individuals with autism. I recently purchased an adorable book written by a six-year-old girl called, "My Autistic Brothers" (Website and FB Page). Her book tells a story of autism in a way that can only be done through the innocence of a child but contains a maturity and wisdom that is beyond her years. Her story told from such a tender age reminds me that if she can do what she does every day, I can surely do my part in raising awareness and promoting good public policy that will improve her life and the lives of her brothers whom she clearly adores.

Magnifying this work are the grandparents that show up. I know dozens but to be brief I will share two. Russ Smith (FB Page) has created a community called "Grandpa's Fighting Autism" (Website) where he describes the "moment of truth" when he came to the realization that this was not just the fight of his grandchild's parents, but that this was his fight also. Another grandparent whom I have great admiration and respect for is Tammy Hall Brown (FB Page). In addition to her phenomenal support of her daughter and grand-kids and her meetings with legislators, this grandmamma just made near 200 phone calls to her neighbors in South Jordan helping them understand autism issues and engaging them in this fight. If you live in South Jordan you just may have talked to this compassionate woman on the phone. These grandparents are doing so much more than "being aware" - they are participating where the rubber meets the road and doing things that will make a lasting difference for generations to come. If these grandparents can add advocacy to their retirement plans, I think I can spare some leisure time to rock this world with my advocacy efforts too.

Now for the neighbors, friends and perfect strangers. I wish I had a better way to honor these unsung heroes. There was the hairdresser of mine from Great Clips who heard schpeal about autism and volunteered to come do blue spikers gel and blue hair extensions for free at an autism awareness event. There were the cousins of mine who have showed up to multiple events to help me out. There are the neighbors and friends I see showing up to the Autism Speaks Walk Planning Committees to offer support in that capacity. And then there are those honest and true strangers who have not experienced autism directly, and yet they donate, call politicians, participate in events and offer support in a myriad of ways. If you fall in that category, you are amazing. You are a symbol of awareness and compassion to the world. Keep it up; know that because of your example we will create a world where individuals with autism are brought up in an environment conducive to allowing the rest of the world experience their magnificence.

My challenge to the reader - invite someone new to this community today. Invite them to LIKE the Utah Autism Coalition (FB Page - Website). Invite them to join a team for the Utah Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. Invite them to write their legislators expressing concern for their neighbors with autism and urging them to consider tangible solutions. Invite them to care.

Thank you,

Mirella Petersen